Common sense on Street View must prevail, says the ICO

Common sense on Street View must prevail, says the ICO

Date: 23 April 2009

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published new advice on Google
Street View in response to a complaint from Privacy International.

David Evans, Senior Data Protection Practice Manager said: “As a regulator we take
a pragmatic and common sense approach. Any images of people’s faces or number
plates should be blurred. We emphasised the importance of blurring these images to
protect people’s privacy and limit privacy intrusion. Google must respond quickly to
deletion requests and complaints as it is doing at the moment. We will be watching
closely to make sure this continues to be achieved in practice.

“However, it is important to highlight that putting images of people on Google Street
View is very unlikely to formally breach the Data Protection Act. Watch the TV news
any day this week and you will see people walking past reporters in the street. Some
football fans’ faces will be captured on Match of the Day and local news programmes
this weekend – without their consent, but perfectly legally. In the same way there is
no law against anyone taking pictures of people in the street as long as the person
using the camera is not harassing people. Google Street View does not contravene
the Data Protection Act and, in any case, it is not in the public interest to turn the
digital clock back. In a world where many people tweet, facebook and blog it is
important to take a common sense approach towards Street View and the relatively
limited privacy intrusion it may cause.”

In July 2008 the ICO met with Google to discuss how Street View would be
implemented. The ICO stressed the importance of including a facility for individuals
to report images they were unhappy with and was satisfied that Google was putting
in place adequate safeguards to avoid unwarranted intrusions on people’s privacy.

The ICO has received a number of complaints and enquiries about Google Street
View. These include those from people who are unhappy that their image is on
Street View, those who are unhappy at the prospect of their/anyone else’s image
potentially appearing, as well as those who are positive about the idea. The ICO
receives over 100,000 telephone calls a year, including 25,000 data protection
related complaints.

The ICO has confirmed to Privacy International that the removal of an entire service
of this type would be disproportionate to the relatively small risk of privacy detriment.
The ICO will keep the operation of Street View under review and take steps to
address issues raised by individuals who feel that Google has not removed
problematic images.

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